AN: A sequence of shorts. Dedicated to my old home.
My father always said he had grown tired of the cold and damp wetness that surrounded the bay. Grown to dislike the redundant fifty-degree weather, the mists of overcast skies and filmy clouds, and the chill of dew surviving long into the afternoon.
As I would laugh and run through the prickly grass, pines littered and lurking, ambitious to attack soft toes, I would tilt my head back to these skyscraper trees I held so much adoration for and simply watch. Surrounded by thick red woods, I would imagine the worlds of adventures in dreams—scurrying around and dashing from the malicious daggered claws of wild mountain lions in a labyrinth of jolting trees and earth. And the mists of early morning bay waters would reach the peak, and in tow, another glorious picture of dinosaurs lumbering in an ancient paradise of branches only their tiny mouths could reach, with barge-legs stacked and strained to reach higher pines.
The strewn, sweeping overhang of clouds left sun gazers sullied and dimmed—but its muted curtain of light peeking through seeped between clusters of branches, stretching to the waiting undergrowth and flowers at my bare feet.
This is home.
The cement passages along the mountains are narrow and sharp—a winding pass overseeing a cliffed ravine. Traveling to the peaks, the plateau of white film crawl above the valley, a flowing blanket tugged around the warm body of the vale. As we reach higher, my eyes sharpen as a hawk's would and as I press against the glass of the back seat, I prey over the mountain, the spots of houses and trees at the bottom morphing to ants as my wings push higher and higher.
I am alight—I am freedom.
"Daddy, I love it here."
He says he's glad. He says he loves me here. He says I could live here too.
He always says that. I tell him so.
"It's your mom—" he replies, eyes focused on the narrow road, "—she doesn't let you visit more."
I stay quiet. He always says that too.
I peek back out the window, my eyes a hawk's again as I press on, blushing and imagining my flight on breezing winds. I close my eyes, the fresh seawater enveloping my cheeks with a flushed hue.
Flying was easier than choosing.
I never took my shoes with me.
Hopping around in the deceivingly sharp gravel, I scamper as elegantly as I can to the long, dry grass and sand.
"Ah—! Makayla—Makayla… a lizard—! Look there, did you? Did you see it? It's right there!" Flat footed in the rocks, remembering their jagged edges escapes notice as we try to better see it. I point, bouncing on the tips of my toes, hobble off the pointed stone and then try again. My dad says if you want to catch one, you have to see it before it takes off. I shuffle through the path of towering, noisy grass—I already know that, daddy, Steve Irwin does that! I don't see his response as we continue through the now softening sand—it doesn't seem to be far or steep but the subtle burning in my hips and calves portray a longer journey. I slow my pace, finally able to walk on flat feet. Racing Makayla isn't that important to me anyway.
Reaching the top of the hill, I stop. The pale sand below greets the dark waters of the ocean, flirting in a predictable game of coming and going lovers, kissing in damp sands as far as I can see. I sway and hobble from foot to foot, the heated, dry sand inescapable at the top of the hill.
My stepmom's chastising falls on only half listening ears. Honey, I told you to bring your shoes.
Makayla and I race down the hill of roasting sand, relief finally attested when the high tide's clumpy residue replaces the dry, burning mounds under me.
It is not warm. The air is fresh and breezy—the waters tepid if not chilled. Baring pale legs and sand crusted knees and toes, the water clings around stretched calves and thighs. The thick cotton sweater on top is sullied with darkened patches as soon as playing ensues between siblings, splashing and kicking. Enchanted envisions of mermaids trapped on land when the cool water recedes and treasure hunting the mounds for horseshoe crabs and baby jellies.
Rock-paper-scissors for the last peanut butter and jelly sandwich between three siblings, the youngest boy victor and tuna and pickle for two older sisters spells tag team for the rest of the day. Spinning, dancing, and tagging on the pale, damp sands in a clinging, heavy sweatshirt, soaking wet from kicking mermaid fins in the shallows goes unnoticed on the empty beach. A chirping bark from a dog is the only company through the afternoon as his owner follows with a crinkly plastic bag on his hand. We play until sand swells to places uncomfortable, our thin skin bubbling under erect hair, and salt cakes the partially dry masses of dark curls at our foreheads.
It's too cold out today, my family had said throughout the morning.
But for me, perfection came in no truer form than this.
I never actually saw a mountain lion. But we were wary of the dark brushes of trees and clusters of thick redwood trunks. The house and land my cousins owned stretched through the mountains and hills of forests, flowing around a glade. In the small clearing above the house, only the surrounding trees are visible. Running and scrambling onto the trampoline first, we hop, leap, and flip as high as bruised and scuffled legs can muster. We are powerful, mythical beasts, twirling and beautiful in this wild place. This is our reprieve.
With heaving chests and flushed faces, we sprawl across the taut black mesh, laughing and telling stories. With eyes wide, my face portrays muted terror at Bryanna's tale, playing off of hers as Makayla's gaze sweeps to me for assurance of its falsehood. Through the teasing though, a portion of Bryanna's account of prowling mountain lions in the surrounding woods does make my gaze filter across the clearing to the unaccounted trees around us.
"B-but—…" Makayla scowls though her eyes remain spooked, "they don't come here, right? They wouldn't bother us, right, Bry?"
Shrugging, Jacqueline chimes, "we're pretty far away—they like the chicken coop too." She gestures towards the coop beyond the trees. "They got a few of 'em—awhile ago, huh, Bry?"
Her agreement had me as cautious at Makayla as she looks around us. I sat up on the bouncy fabric and a scowl churns my lips though my sweating palms silently betray whatever front I show. Shadows look longer—suspicious, the peaceful breeze was now eerie, and the straining keens of the coils as I move set my heart racing.
In a show of bravado, I hop off the trampoline—my soles blackened by the dark mesh—and proclaim a race back to the house. We were at the tree line within seconds, most of us casting second glances toward suspicious looking trunks. By the time we ran up the hill to the back sky window, fears had been alleviated and laughter in its stead.
Acting tough was always better than admitting bring scared.
The dry grass and underbrush littered my legs with slices and sores, most of which I don't feel or pay mind to. There is a small, narrow dirt path for most of the journey—the rest of the hike is holding onto fallen limbs and clinging to branches to slide down to the next ledge. It doesn't take long but we always have to have an adult with us—we were never allowed to go down to the river without someone older. I would always bristle at that—I was plenty old to take care of Makayla and Michael.
"C'mon—c'mon, let's go!" Grappling with a lowered trunk, I curl my legs and hurriedly weasel around pointed underbrush and jagged pieces of limbs. I peer through the under hangings—the appearance of the bottom rocks splayed with bright sun and chattering brooks mades me more impatient. "Daddy—hurry!"
Finally bursting out from the ledge, I yelp and land in the rocky brook below. I sputter in the shallow water, embarrassed but not diffused. Clunky in the river shoes we are forced to wear, I shake off the moss and wipe my scratched hands across my bloodied knees, thinning the red with river water as is trails down my shins in an eager race. When I turn, my dad is shin deep where I had fallen and lifts my siblings across the water onto the plateau of rocks next to me. Trumping from smooth rock to the next, I hold hands with Michael as we stride for the deep swimming waters across the bend. The over growth of trees leans over the darkened blue and green on the opposite side we had come made the waters cool and shadowed. I always liked hearing about the electric eels that would migrate through the river—it made me watch the darkened pools for sharp silver movement in their depths.
Immune to the nibbling water beetles in the shallow rocks because of our shoes, we hunt for tadpoles, making room in our plastic bug container for water and earthy rocks and mud at the bottom. We collect them, some half frogs by the time we snatch them from the shallows, with slimy legs and a gullet forming at their throats. We would track in the rocks and pools, caked with sun block and sloshing wet-shoes, pretending we were Jeff Corwin's assistants or, as I wanted to someday be, the crocodile hunter. Being the only one brave enough to snatch the twisting tail end of a snake or nab it behind the head to see its bared fangs, I would tease my two younger siblings before releasing it to the river as Steve Irwin would be proud I do.
The river shrunk, I would hear of my aunt. It's smaller every year. Playing below the mountainside campsite in the river, it always seemed plenty big to me. The big rock in the middle of the murky waters was plenty big to try and crawl up onto.
Peeling off my water logged slippers and curling my toes around the oval rocks next to the brooks to begin the hike back was always easier than admit things were changing.
In the yard, feet bare and pines crinkling to the ground from the ancient woods above me, it is cloudy. I hug the sweatshirt I have curled up in, the cotton warm around my chest. My father always said he had grown tired of the cold and damp wetness that surrounded the bay. Grown to dislike the redundant fifty-degree weather, the mists of overcast skies and filmy clouds, and the chill of dew surviving long into the afternoon.
I never understood.
Because to me, it was glorious to feel that wisp of fresh ocean air.
To me, there was an adventure in every misty morning.
To me, the dew of a brisk morning turning to noon was a hope that everything would stay the same.
I wouldn't want to be in any place but this.
Curling my toes in the dampened grass below the redwoods, I turn to the screen door, slip on my shoes, and lug my bags to the door, car, to the Arcada airport.
It was easier to imagine I would be back soon than to say goodbye to my special place.
My father always said he had grown tired of the cold weather from the bay, the redundant overcast skies, and the chill of dew surviving most of the day.
He called me a few years later to tell me they had moved to Arizona and I would love it there. I would love the cacti, the beautiful weather, the clear blue skies and blazingly delightful sun. I would love the canyons and the wide-open prairies.
I smile and agree through the plastic at my ear.
It is easier to lie than to disclose what I actually think.
I stare down at my shoe-covered feet and say goodbye.
Thanks for reading.